In the early hours of Wednesday morning a fire broke out and eventually engulfed Grenfell Tower in the Royal London Borough of Kensingston and Chelsea. For more on what actually happened I will refer you to the Wikipedia page. In this piece I just want to jot down some general thoughts on events as they have unfolded.
Like everybody else I watched on helplessly as the flames reduced most of the 24 story building to a charred, smoking monolith. Latest estimates seem to suggest 55-60 residents have perished. However, information has been very hard to come by, much to the distress, and in many cases raw anger of relatives and other residents. Often a tragedy like this is followed by a quiet, solemn period as people come to terms with loss. However, many affected still can’t truly begin to grieve as there has been no formal word on missing loved ones. Perhaps because of this vacuum and perhaps because of the fears residents had over the refurbishment and general condition of the Tower what we have seen instead is a massive outpouring of justifiable anger and frustration.
One act above all has riled both locals as well as people watching from around the UK – the actions of the Prime Minister, Theresa May. In an act of crass insensitivity the PM visited the scene within hours to speak to members of the emergency services. All well and good, but there was one group of people she chose to ignore – the local people. While others such as Jeremy Corbyn, Sadiq Khan, Andrea Leadsom and even the Queen herself faced the front line, the country’s leading politician chose to stay away. Security reasons were quoted. To me this is an insult to the people who would have been there to meet her. Theresa May was roundly ridiculed for her increasingly stilted, evasive and robotic performances during the recent General Election. She was also extremely loathed to interact with members of the public, instead preferring to keep appearances confined to back-street warehouses filled with party activists. There was also her refusal to take part in face-to-face debates with fellow politicians. It all added up to a picture of a person who is literally scared of the public, and people – not something any politician can be, especially one who is meant to be a leader.
The Prime Minister belatedly visited the some of the victims in hospital. However, the moment had passed. In life, sometimes you only get one chance to do the right thing. Sadly for Mrs May when that moment came on Wednesday she woefully misjudged the mood of the local people as well as a shocked nation. From that there can be no comeback. She must resign.
Back in the Borough, anger is still the prevalent emotion. The actions of the Prime Minister aside, there is a feeling that once again the lowest in society have paid a high price at the hands of those looking to make a quick buck. The cladding added to the Tower may have pleased the eyes of the millionaires in their penthouses, but a material which was clearly not fit for purpose has created a highly visual and public tragedy which will scar London, and beyond, for many years to come. Hopefully answers will be swift and retributions appropriate. It’s no less than the people of Grenfell Tower deserve.
Thanks for reading.